The New Singleness

On October 20, 2011, in Maggie Gallagher, by Betsy

by Maggie Gallagher

October 20, 2011

The decline of manhood and norms around sex, marriage, and family produces for young women what may in fact have to be endured. But it shouldn’t be celebrated.

In the cover story of the November Atlantic magazine, Kate Bolick declares her liberation from marriage: “It’s time to embrace new ideas about romance and family–and to acknowledge the end of ‘traditional’ marriage as society’s highest ideal.”

The odd thing about “progressive” tropes is their peculiar, static, timeless quality.

For progressives, time stands still. Each new generation is posed as poised to break through taboos that, in truth, vanished long ago.

The modern youngish woman like Kate (mateless and childless at 39 years of age) must find a way to view her sexual predicament as a social breakthrough, a revolutionary act, an act of liberation from her mother’s restricted and restrictive norms.

“In 1969, when my 25-year-old mother, a college-educated high school teacher, married a handsome lawyer-to-be, most women her age were doing more or less the same thing. . . . She’d never had sex with anyone but my father. Could she have even envisioned herself on a shopping excursion with an ex-lover, never mind one who was getting married while she remained alone?” Kate wonders.

Kate is probably the very last generation of (not very) young women who can even imagine themselves re-enacting this fantasy of sex as liberation. She is the very last generation of women whose mothers married young in a world that frowned on premarital sex, had children with husbands and–because any actual marriage is finite and human longing is infinite–fantasized a better, bigger life and marriage for their daughters than the humdrum reality of married love.

I know. At 51, I’m about a decade older than Kate. My son is just a decade younger.

The next generation of Atlantic cover girls on marriage will have mothers who had too much sex before marriage, and perhaps even afterward, who came of age in a society that celebrated casual sex, divorce, unwed-motherhood, abortion.

Your mother’s been there, done that.

Of course, that will not stop the “progressive” young women from trying to find some way their ongoing sexual perplexities represent a revolutionary advance for women.

But because Kate is an honest woman, her essay reads like a dreary slog through the gap between myth and reality of the sexual revolution.

Kate goes back to speak to younger women today, and is appalled by what she finds among 20-somethings:

Keep reading.

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